Things to know

Regularly read by 50,000+ readers in over 140 countries around the world, "Dear Bro Jo" is published several times a month.

This is column is just one guy's opinion, and while he does his best to keep what he thinks, says and writes in-line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "Dear Bro Jo" is not an LDS Church website. (And Sister Jo thinks you should know that he's sometimes wrong, and often way too opinionated for his own good.)

Nothing here is meant to take the place of talking with parents, leaders, or Church authorities. Please, if you need serious help, talk to a trusted adult, leader, and / or professional counselor.

Please like our Facebook page, and check it often for Discussions, Notes, Events and just General Good Stuff!

Everything here is copyrighted. If you're going to quote any part of anything here, please get Bro Jo's written permission. You can reach him at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writing a Missionary

Hey Bro Jo,

Thanks for your dedication to helping the young people of the Church figure out some of their problems, even though I don't always agree with everything you say, I do appreciate it.

I turn 19 this year- and so do most of my friends, which means the time is ripe for boys to start going out on their missions. I don't have too many male friends in the church, but I have a few friends out on missions and a few more leaving soon. I've been wondering for awhile about writing missionaries- what the various norms and protocols are. I don't have much schema for these things as both my parents were adult converts and I'm the only active member in my family, and have been for some time. I'm not sure if these are questions that only I have, or if many girls are unsure of missionary writing protocol, but I could certainly use your help!

My questions about the topic are rather numerous...

Who do I write? Missionaries that I was friends with before they left? Missionaries who were in my family ward, but I don't really talk to? Missionaries that I met at EFY and I'm friends with on Facebook so I know their mission addresses, but haven't talked to since EFY? (Too creepy? What if they don't remember me?) Is there a certain friendship/acquaintance level that denotes what boys I should write when they're on their mission and how often I should write them?

How often do I write? Should I write one a week, a month, or a quarter? Does how often I write depend on how much I have to say? On how well I know the person I'm writing? How much is too much?

Does writing a missionary need to be constant correspondence? Can I just write one letter and be done? Is it rude to receive a reply letter from a missionary and not answer it promptly? Doesn't that lead to constant letter writing?

What about emailing a missionary? How does that work? If a missionary has an email account should I email them more? Less? How do you decide what to email and what to write in a letter?

What do I say?! Especially when writing regularly? Do I talk about my life? How many questions should I ask about his life? (As you can tell I am very inquisitive). Is it cheesy to include spiritual stuff? How to I encourage and uplift my friends on missions without sounding "holier than thou" or like I know what they're going through?

Those are my general questions, I also have more specific ones about a situation I am in. Last year, I was visiting the hometown of a guy I had met at EFY a year before. We hadn't talked much before then, but we met up while I was there. It ended up being one of those ambiguous date/non-date/almost date situations that extremely frustrating. After I returned home, we started texting and talking a lot. We clearly liked each other, but knew that nothing could come of it as we were both against long distance relationships. Regardless, many months of flirtatious texting ensued.

Last summer, before we entered college, I took a roadtrip with some friends that included a stop in his town for a few days (it may have been our main destination, but we went other places too!). During this time, I realized that I actually wasn't that interested in him romantically, but the extent of his feelings for me also came out, which were much greater than I expected. Since then, we've remained in contact, but not so much as before. Recently, he left on his mission. Before he left, we had talked about me writing him and he had mentioned something about how I would have a good excuse to not date weird guys because I would be able to tell them I was writing a missionary.

I didn't think I had given him the impression that I would be writing to him in a romantic sense- in fact I had adamantly expressed my opinions to him that girls should not wait for missionaries or write to them as girlfriends, future wives, etc. Just to clarify, before he left I wrote him an email letting him know that I probably didn't feel as strongly about him as he felt about me, (which, admittedly, may have been a bit presumptuous, but I didn't get the impression that his feelings had changed since summer) and we would see if in two years we could date, but it's not something to be hoping/wishing/dreaming of. I let him know that I didn't want to be a distraction to his mission, but we'd write as friends. Since he left, we've been both writing and emailing, but predominantly emailing because the mail takes so long to get to and from an overseas mission. So, I'm hoping for your advice and opinions- How do I write him and encourage him on his mission without becoming a distraction? Do you see any red-flags with our friendship and writing each other (aside from summer roadtrips- I realize that that would not have been Bro Jo approved)? Any other good tips for writing this missionary?

Sorry for the large amount of content, and thank you so much for all your help!

-Correspondence Clueless

Dear Cora,

(Get it?!?)

Thank you for the kind words; even Sister Jo doesn't agree with me all the time . . .

It's a good and thoughtful letter, and I appreciate the opportunity to get all of this down in one place, so here we go!

1) Which missionaries should you write?

Relatives first (brothers, cousins, nephews); guys you know better than others next (home ward brothers, guys from seminary, boys you dated but never hated); miscellaneous guys last.

2) How often should you write?

This is not just a question of how often, but how often he writes back, and how close you are. You can never write your sibling too often; once a week is great! But a "guy friend"? Hmmm . . . more often than monthly seems too frequent. If he's writing you that often, he doesn't seem to me to be as focused as he should be.

3) What should I write about?

Write pro-mission, hang in there, how's it going, what is your area like, how are the people letters. Nothing mushy, flirty, or along the lines of "too bad you're there and not here" letters.

4) Is it OK to email?

In my opinion, no. Too much like chatting in person. Plus, the actual letter can serve as a memento and give opportunities for contemplation that the "instant-ness" of emails doesn't. I think you need to quit the emailing and be patient for the letters. I get the sense that you're emailing so much that it's more like chatting on-line - that's WAY TOO MUCH contact and distraction.

The biggest Red Flag is if you fail to go on lots of dates while he's gone.

- Bro Jo


Seth Adam Smith said...

Great site. Keep up the awesome work!

Kristin said...

This was great! I'm in the same boat. I've never known any of the young men who left on a mission in person, but I just graduated, which means that all my ward/stake friends will be going on missions in the next year! This was a great guideline! Thanks Bro Jo!

Amberlie said...

We had a lesson about writing letters to missionaries in my Young Women's class about a year ago. They gave similar guidelines: if you're writing a casual friend, maybe a few times a year. A "special friend," maybe once every 1-3 months. relatives, as often as you'd like. Focus your writing on how their missions are blessing your lives, and ward events, and how proud you are of them! They love that!
My best friend's brother just left to the MTC, and he's so busy right now he hasn't had time to write back. But to me, that is much better than getting responses to every letter because I know he's spending his time training and becoming the best missionary he can be!